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Kasha

“Veterinarians deal with death the most out of any medical profession.”

“Does it ever really get any easier, euthanization?” asked the first year student.

“Every euthanization is difficult, but some hit harder than others…”
– from “Vet School” (TV show, NatGeo Wild)

Is there any such thing as a good death? A beautiful, peaceful, passing?

Is there a right way and a wrong way for the owners, scratch that, the human family of a beloved companion animal to act, when they have to free a well loved furry family member from life, because of illness or injury? When the vet is there, administering the fatal meds, is there a proper or expected or normal way to act? Or do they see a whole range of responses?

Strange questions to ask, I know, but you ought to be used to strange questions from me by now.

Our vet cried, along with Rhiannon and I, when we put dear Kasha to sleep, on Nov 2. I’m pretty sure it was my actions that caused that.

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In her prime...

Let me back up, and set the scene… Kasha was 12 or 13 years old, quite old for a giant of a dog, weighing over 100#. She was a shelter dog, rescued from the ASPCA when less than a year old. She had been a member of the family a long, long, time.

Kasha had developed multiple issues, including deafness, a heart condition, gallbladder problems, and then, canine degenerative disc disease began taking a huge toll on her, worsening dramatically in August. She had muscle spasms in her rear thighs and legs, and stiffness, then finally started having a hard time getting her rear legs up, standing or walking. She just couldn’t coordinate her back legs properly.

I watched her those last two weeks with her spinal issues weighing heavily on my mind. I had just been told that my own back pain wasn’t just scoliosis or a slipped disc.

No, nothing is ever that simple with me. Instead, I have “severe multilevel degenerative disc disease” of pretty much my whole spine. And Kasha had the canine equivalent.

So the question on my mind that last few weeks was, “is she in as much pain as I am?” Because I was in a lot of pain, with sharp pains in my spine, feeling discs moving around, sciatica in my hips making it hard to get comfortable, no matter what position I tried.

Did she feel that way? I don’t think so, at least not until the last few days, and I dosed her with pain meds then, while we waited for it to be Monday, and the vet able to come…

Books on grieving pet loss all say when you have to be the one to make the call, that so-dreaded and very final decision, that everyone feels guilty to some extent.

I didn’t. It couldn’t have been any clearer, watching this beautiful, still so-very-loving, old friend, drag herself around with her front legs, unable to stand her rear up without assistance. How affectionate she was those last few weeks, relishing all the extra attention she was getting…

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A young Kasha, right after her adoption...

We were lucky, and a local vet has just started doing house calls. She had known we were almost there, and was waiting to get the call… and then it was clearly, so clearly, time.

The vet was running late that day, but it turned out to be for the best, I think. We had moved Kasha out into the yard, and as the sun fell and the light began to die, we brought candles, many candles, outside.

For an hour or so, Rhiannon and I sat beside Kasha, lavishing her with Love, expensive treats, and cheese. We told her how much she meant to us, swapped stories about what a good dog she’d been, shared the funny stories, and commemorated her life.

We were ready, when the vet arrived. She quietly asked questions, to understand the situation better. We managed to stop crying long enough to answer them. I suspect our tear-streaked faces told her more than enough.

The vet was gentle and patient, and Kasha was soon sedated, nearly asleep, her head in my lap… the vet waited until we were ready, to give that final injection.

My forehead rested on Kasha’s, one hand cradling her head, the other in Rhiannon’s tight grip, as tears streamed like a river over Kasha’s head. I whispered to her that it was okay, that she should fly free, my beautiful girl, away from the pain, and that we’d be okay.

Kasha’s nose against my leg told me when her breathing slowed, and stopped.

I don’t know how it is for other people in the same situation.

But as deaths go, this one was peaceful, reverential, sacred. An act of mercy, a setting free, done with so very much Love. I can only hope my own passing, when it comes, is such a gentle one.

And maybe that’s why the vet cried. I don’t suppose it’s every day she sees a sacred passing, a silently sobbing owner, forehead to forehead, eye to eye, with her beloved companion, as their soul takes flight.
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You’re in the arms of the angels, now, Kasha.
We Love you.
Now, forever, and always.


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So Brazen! Inside our dog yard! (Photo taken thru screen.)

She is so brazen.

She looked up at me, startled, but unafraid, when I came out onto our screened in porch yesterday morning.

There she was, standing inside our fenced-in dog yard, stems and leaves dangling from her mouth. She looked guilty, like a kid who got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

We’ve lived here 11 years, and this is the first time this has happened.

I gazed back at her from less than 15 feet away. She has beautiful eyes, I thought, watching her watching me, as she casually chewed her mouthful of weeds.

I’ve known her, this one particular doe, since she was a striking little fawn. There are many deer, but both she and her mother are different.

Her mother is the grand matriarch of this section of Woods, the biggest doe I’ve ever seen (with the biggest ears to match), the leader of the rest of the “girls,” many of whom are her offspring. Now she is the “old doe,” slowing down with age, and instead of twins, having single fawns.

But this daughter of hers looks ready to take her mother’s place. She was clearly different from the beginning, her coat several shades lighter than that of her twin brother and the rest of the deer. It still is, and in Winter, it is the palest silver-gray. Now she is two years old, and has twin fawns of her own.

She has always been brazen, this one.

Once, I started the car up, in the evening, flipped on the headlights, and there she was, standing right in front of the car. I waited for her to move, as her companions had.

But instead, she looked at me, and stamped her hoof imperiously, before ever so slowly turning around. Her tail went up, and the headlights lit it up. I watched as the hairs spread out; it reminded me somehow of a peacock’s tail. I didn’t know they could do that – control the spread of the white hairs, and she spread them like a fan for me to see. It was beautiful, the hairs shimmering, crystalline white, in the light.

This doe reminds me of a goat I used to have, named Molly, who was just that color. She has as much personality as a goat, that much is for certain, and in case you’ve never had goats, well, they have nearly as much personality & intelligence as a dog.

As I gazed at the doe in my dog yard, my newly awakened brain surveyed the fence running around it. That fence would hold a goat, I thought, unless it climbed over it. I began pondering how she was going to get out of there – and how she got in.

I needn’t have worried.

When she finished chewing her mouthful, staring at me the whole time, but with her body calm, her white tail relaxed, she nonchalantly ambled over to the fence, nibbling as she went. With one graceful leap, from a standstill, she was over the 42″ high fence, and began nibbling away on the other side.

So graceful. So beautiful. So easy.

She continued her grazing around the outside of the dog yard, and I watched her a long time.

Suddenly she alerted, her eyes staring intently off into the Woods on the other side of the house. If I didn’t bother her, and Kodi’s careful surveillance of her didn’t bother her, then what did?

I walked across the deck to see, and standing in a very green patch, lit by the sun, was a beautiful big stag, with a gleaming rusty red coat, and a heavy rack on his head. The bucks are banding together now, and he had several with him, of all ages.

I regretted I hadn’t had my phone, and therefor my camera, with me, to get a picture of the doe in the dog yard, and the beautiful bucks.

But I shouldn’t have worried about that, either.

Grazing Outside the Jungle… err… Dog Yard…

The brazen girl came back in the afternoon, saw me on the porch swinging in my hammock chair, and, looking me in the eye, jumped the fence again, in a different place. She almost, just almost, looked like a teenager, daring me to tell her she couldn’t be in there.

She didn’t like having her picture taken, though, and was further away from the house than she’d been earlier. But it was nice of her to let me get one decent shot, the one at top.

I love the deer, especially this brazen girl, who has walked so frequently through our “yard” with her fawns in tow.

I love these Woods, and I love these mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

My heart has always called them home.

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Yesterday started with barking.

It ended with a bear on our front porch.

I rather think the two are related.

At 7am, my peaceful sleep was interrupted by Kasha-dog barking like a mad thing, along with, apparently, every other dog on this side of the Mountain. Kodi, curled up in bed next to me, let out a growl that would have made a tiger proud – low and deep and very menacing.

There was some yelling, I must admit, from Rhiannon and I both, telling the dogs to stop barking. It worked for a few minutes, and then the frantic barking started again. This went on for perhaps 15 minutes, and then, finally, we all got back to sleep.

There was a lot of barking from the neighborhood dogs all day long, with Kasha & Kodi joining in, which was quite unusual – it’s usually pretty quiet up here, and there was a strange tone to their barking.

Last night, I went to bed early, and was sound asleep when the barking started again, as it approached midnight. This time, it was Kodi and Kasha together, standing in our living room and barking at our front door. They were definitely barking the “intruder alert” bark this time. Many other neighboring dogs could be heard joining in.

Rhiannon was on the phone to Ben, and I heard her say how scared she was, as I emerged from my room, pulling on clothes along the way.

“There was something on the porch!” she told me, continuing with, “There was a lot of noise!”

I looked to Kasha, the wise old girl of our house, who had finally stopped barking. The motion-activated light on the porch was not on.

I tiptoed to the door and looked out, shining a flashlight through the glass, half expecting a raccoon or something to look back, but instead saw that a full trashcan was knocked over.

I thought it had moved on, whatever it was that was large enough to knock a trashcan over. I started to open the door, telling Rhiannon to hold Kodi, who does not recall yet.

Kasha I trusted to come back, and to protect me if whatever-it-was was still there. She was going out first!

I straightened the trashcan as Kasha ran into the yard, and began barking again, although, oddly, not as urgently as before.

Shining my light on her, I saw that what I first took for simple darkness was not darkness at all – it seems black bears are hard to see in the dark! Kasha was close to it, and I ordered her back and into the house.

A bag of trash was spilled onto the grass a good 20 feet from our cabin.

The bear was moving off, and I called Rhiannon out to see it, and we watched it stroll into the bright outside lights of our neighbor’s house. The golden and brown leaves crunched under it’s feet as it moved away.

It was a quiet night after that, and today has been quiet, too.

We’ve been here over 10 years, and this was the first time I’ve seen a bear at our house. I count it a blessing, this which I know terrifies others.

It has been a lean year for mast – the acorns, hazelnuts and other forest products that the deer and the bear need to fatten up on. From what I’ve heard, bears have been living on our mountain for years, and I even saw one a couple years ago, when it crossed the road in front of my car on the way up the mountain. So I have known they were around.

But I think seeing one is a blessing, just as seeing the elusive fox is, and just as watching the fawns grow up is. There is something very special about seeing animals in the wild, rather than locked up in zoos.

We are all neighbors here on one mountain, one planet, one Earth. We are all related… mitakuye oyasin.

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Sometimes, the truth hurts. But better the truth, and understanding, than living in confusion & conflict, imposing your values on someone else. For those that this hurts, I’m truly sorry. You’ll just have to believe me that it was as hard for me to write, as it will be for you to read.

I’ve spent much of my life looking for a place to call home. There have been many houses & farms, but I always knew they were temporary, the best we could find at the time, or the best we could afford. But until I found my humble cabin the woods, in my beloved Blue Ridge Mountains, 11 years ago, there weren’t any that were really, truly, home.

I had started to think maybe I would never really understand what it was to love a place so much that it was your heart’s home, that maybe I’d always be a gypsy, staying a few years here, a few years there.  But I’ve lived here longer than I have ever lived anyplace else, and don’t ever want to leave.

I’ve finally set down roots.

Even when I was growing up, where we lived was just a house, though, of course, I would say things like, “Let’s go home,” but it wasn’t home, not in my heart.

I have some vague memories of the house I lived in from 7 to 16 – a large, suburban house, backing up onto a swampy patch of woods. I had everything I could seemingly want: loving parents, clothes, nice furniture, more toys than any kid needs…  but still, it wasn’t my home.

My home was the Woods behind the house.

My spirit-sister, Daphna, and I ran those woods, usually barefoot in all sorts of weather, lest our shoes show we’d been into the “forbidden zone” – the area around the creek we loved, or elsewhere in that muddy patch of forest. We’d stash our shoes under a bush, and take off.

We knew every inch, every corner, every tree. We tracked the raccoons and other critters that lived there. We learned about wild plants; built rafts that always seemed to sink; caught tadpoles; found beautiful stones.

We ran like the wind, or the deer, as only a child can run, with utter freedom and abandon, leaping from rock to rock, and walked fallen tree-bridges, in total confidence, without fear.

But we weren’t supposed to be there. We were under orders to only follow the path that led to the small park, to play on the equipment there. I distinctly remember my mother telling us that if we went to the area of the creek, we might get bitten by a snake, or a rabid raccoon. That didn’t stop us. We went anyway.

I remember very clearly, standing one day on the path that led back to the house, as it started to get dark, when we were due back. Looking up at the house up the hill, I saw not a home, but a box; a prison; confinement; misunderstanding.

I was a round peg being forced into a square hole, and I hated it.

I dreamed of running away, to live in the mountains. Several times a year, we would drive the hour out to the Skyline Drive, which runs atop the Blue Ridge Mountains, and there, that, was my heart’s desire: woods that stretched for miles; babbling creeks; great weathered rocks; the glory of the Fall leaves; the beauty of the Spring flowers; breathtaking sunsets.

I remember being in the back seat of the car, looking out the back window, tears running silently down my cheeks as we would drive back to our house in suburbia.

Without Daphna, and the Woods, I think I would have gone crazy, and when she moved away, when I was 12 (?), it absolutely devastated me. The Woods were totally forbidden to me now – without a friend to go with me, I wasn’t allowed back there.

You can blame it on the Asperger’s if you want. But it was – and is – much more than that. It’s feeling things other people don’t. Remembering lives that happened before this life.

It’s valuing things other people don’t, and not caring at all about what they do.

It’s wanting something totally different from the people around me.

It’s still that way, with a very few exceptions.

After a lifetime of being a gypsy, moving from house to house to house, I finally found my heart’s home, here in my beloved Blue Ridge Mountains. It is only a humble cabin in the Woods, small by many people’s standards, always disastrously messy & cluttered, and often actually quite dirty (in the real dirt sense of the word – my beloved dogs track it in, and without energy to clean…).

But it’s my home, finally, a place I’ve set my roots down, after so many years of searching. A place I’ve set my heart and spirit to rest. And I love it.

Living here isn’t easy, especially for a chronically ill person. The driveway is rough by anyone’s standards, nearly vertical, and impassable in heavy snow. The house is not well insulated, if it’s insulated at all. It was built to be a weekend retreat for suburbanites from DC, not a full time residence. The kitchen is smaller than most bathrooms, which makes cooking in there rather difficult. The paint is peeling, and the siding could use replacing, and the floors could stand to be sanded and re-stained.

But what makes it home is it’s location, in my beloved mountains; the 3 sliding glass doors that open onto the screened in porch and large deck with the breathtaking beauty of the mountains beyond; the open floor-plan & soaring ceilings; the way it sits back from the road, so we have  privacy; the screened in porch that I use for carving my beads, all year long, protected from all but the hardest rains and fiercest winds; the yard the dogs, so absolutely necessary to my life, have easy access to.

It’s the quiet seclusion, so necessary when the almost ever-present migraines strike; the silence, away from sirens, with little traffic, no noisy neighbors.

And even more, it’s the trees in all their Autumn glory; the radiant sunsets that light the whole sky; the deer than amble, unafraid, through the yard; the great weathered stones that are everywhere; the trilliums, lilys, and daffodils we discover in unexpected places;  the violets that blanket the “yard” in Spring; the raspberries that fill our bodies with their all natural goodness; the well water that cleanses and purifies us, and runs through my veins.

What we have here nourishes my soul, feeds my restless spirit.

I wouldn’t trade my home, this land, and these mountains, for all the money in the world, or a million dollar house, or what you may think is an “easier” way to live.

You may not understand, and you may not value what I do.

All I ask is that you accept that I do value this life, here on the Mountain. And that without it, I see little point in going on.

Unless you are as sick as I am, you cannot know what it’s like to live every day, so sick, so tired, in so much pain.

You cannot know how it sucks the soul out of you.

Autumn Sky

Here, I have the chance for the only joy I will ever again experience.

Here, I can turn my head, from my big bed, and look out into the trees, the sky, the sunsets.

Here, the moon shines on me as I sleep; the stars light the sky overhead in a way they never can in the city; the meteors streak through the night and can actually be seen.

Here, I can spend my few minutes out of bed each day watching the ever changing world around me; see the many wild things we share the world with: the spotted fawns, the graceful bucks,  the elusive fox, and thrill at the flight of a hawk high overhead.

Here, I can sit in my hanging chair, on my porch, and rock for as long as I want, totally absorbed in watching the incredible beauty of the world around me.

Here, finally, is the place I call home.

Winter Sunset

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How do you pinpoint the moment you know you’ve finally found the right dog to add to your family? How do you pinpoint the exact moment you knew? The moment you fell inexorably in love?  Perhaps it was one of these – or all of these – moments:

We walked through the kennel at the animal shelter, leading Alpha, the very nice dog we’d come to see, towards the outside door & the outside dog yard. The cacophony of dog voices was overwhelming – 15 kennels on each side, each with either an adult dog or a litter of puppies, all screaming for our attention. Rhiannon was already out the door as I passed the kennel with the gold & red dog in it, and felt the tug at my soul, the one that said “Stop!” I motioned to her to come back, but she wasn’t coming back into that racket.

We returned Alpha at 4pm, the shelter’s  closing time, and I followed the tug to the gold-red dog, whose shelter name was Maverick. I knelt in front of his kennel door, and brown eyes looked into brown eyes. He licked my face energetically, then proceeded to throw himself at the door, trying to sit in my lap, jump into my arms, despite the chain link that separated us. He rubbed his body so hard against the wire mesh that shedding fur billowed out in a cloud.

Rhiannon looked on, and asked me, “Is he The One?” I struggled to answer. How could I know, so soon?

But I had almost tried, without thinking about it, in those few moments, to lean my forehead down to his giant chestnut head, to touch my forehead to his, in a greeting known throughout the world: Namaste, the Divine Being in me sees & recognizes the Divine Being in you. Shunka was the only dog I’d ever done that with, and Manitou the wolf-dog before him.

There were many dogs there, all dogs who deserve a good home, a family to love them. But this one dog, he caused me to feel a tug at my soul, at my heart, that I hadn’t felt for any of the others. Not for Loki; not for Keegan.

We had to leave him, after ten minutes of stolen time. The shelter was closed. It was also full – at or over capacity, I learned that night, through Facebook. Our quick decision on Maverick or Alpha could save a dog’s life. I put in a pre-application through their website that night.

We spent time discussing Alpha & Maverick. Well, the discussion of Alpha was short. He’s a nice dog, but not for us. Maverick was not at all what I had expected, or, where I had expected, to feel the soul-tug. A Rottweiler mix of some kind, with the shape of a Rottie, but a glorious chestnut & golden coat, with black guard hairs on his back. And no tail – it appears, like most Rotties, that he was born without one. Silky-soft floppy ears completed the Rottie look.

I wanted a dog that was medium sized, with prick ears, and it would never occur to me to even look at a dog without a tail. I’m all about canine body language, after years living with wolf-dogs. And a male dog – the bonds of a woman with a male dog, and a man with a female dog, are just different from the bonds of same-sex canine/human. There is no need for instinctual canine sex-related dominance issues, so they can be equal partners. (You must remember, my spirit-shape is a wolf, and I often think like one!)

Rhiannon wanted a large dog with floppy ears, a soft coat with lots of fur. She liked Alpha, but rationally knew his energy level was too high for us. She loved Maverick, too, who had spared a few moments of time to gaze into her eyes & give her doggie-kisses. Rhiannon had felt the tug, as well.

We were back the next day. We took Maverick out to the dog yard, and watched, played, and petted him for an hour. We were also liberally covered with doggie-kisses. But we also did things gauged at testing his temperament.

He was having his belly rubbed, when I picked up one foot, to see if he was used to having them handled. He yanked it away, and my hand was on his neck instantly, a low growl rising in my throat. I’d done this with many wolf-dogs, and wolf-dogs only speak wolf – canine signals are all they understand. This was an alpha-roll, establishing my place as dominant over him. I could only use one hand, because of my torn shoulder, but I only needed one. He struggled momentarily, my fingers, acting as surrogate teeth, digging into his neck, while the growl filled my throat. It took only a few moments before his instinct kicked in, and he went limp. Test passed with flying colors.

A few minutes later, I was sitting in the grass, when he approached & gently took my chin & bottom jaw in his massive mouth. My heart melted. Rhiannon watched with wide eyes. It is a wolf thing, the acknowledgement of the dominant, or alpha, member of the pack. Some dogs never do it. Shunka never did, though he was very willing to offer kisses. Kasha will barely even offer a quick lick.

The last time I felt canine teeth close gently on my bottom jaw in respect was when Manitou did it. Manitou was one of my wolf-dogs, my soul-mate, and long gone from Earth. But it was Manitou I had dreamed of all night long.

If there was any doubt left in my mind, that this big, golden chestnut Rottie-mix was meant to be with us, it was soon dispelled, as I put it to the ultimate test.

The shelter has horses, and the dog yard sits in a corner of the horse pasture. Rhiannon walked over to see them, and was pleased when Maverick trotted along beside her to go see them closer. I sat on the lone chair, and did what I was most afraid to do: I opened my heart, or heart-chakra, fully.

There used to be a time when I could – and would – open my heart, open my soul, and reach out and touch an animal’s soul. I loved doing it when riding my beloved horse, Cherokee, dropping the reins, riding bareback, horse & rider becoming one being, if only for a few minutes. I loved doing it with aggressive guard dogs, quieting their growls & barks with a touch of my soul, and walking up to them, usually staked out on a short chain, to be greeted with kisses, while their owners stood by, slack-jawed with bewilderment. They often were abused, and rarely loved, and I lavished them with love as long as I could. It is my Gift.

But somewhere along the way, between the abusive marriage & divorce, the chronic illness, I stopped trusting myself, and my Gift. I closed up my heart except for a chosen few.

Now I sat under a tree, and opened my heart & soul wide, and took in the world around me. I felt Rhiannon’s bright spirit, with Maverick beside her, though they were behind me a good ways, and my eyes closed. I felt the manic energy of the dogs & cats in the shelter. The horses. And then I called out, with my soul. I felt Maverick turn his attention from the horses & Rhiannon, felt him head my way. I followed his path with the eyes of my soul. And then he was there, his head under my hand as Rhiannon would tell me his head had been under her hand.

Rhiannon came back & I shared the experience with her. Her eyes swam with tears. Yes, was the answer, he is The One. A warm, peaceful, serenity filled us both.

I know it will not be effortless. He will need to learn manners. But he passed his cat-aggression test, so at least we can feel that Dusty will likely be very safe. He hasn’t met Kasha yet, but in about 4 hours we will bring him home.

We found The One. After so many months of searching. Now to figure out his name…

Maverick or CODY!

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So, I’ve been thinking about something (those who know me know it’s time to groan). What follows is long and rambling, but, there are questions at the end.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about dogs, cats, companion animals, and farm animals, and how our society expects different behavior from the owner of a companion animal versus the owner of a farm animal.

Kasha!

What provoked this line of thought? That would be Kasha, the amazing Kleenex & cat litter eating dog. Kasha has recently developed a very bad habit, of raiding whatever she can find to raid when we aren’t home. She never used to do this, but then, until a year ago, she was never the only dog left home alone, because we had Shunka, who passed two years ago this June, and Dart, who passed a year and a few days ago.

I’m thinking that since Kasha’s naughty habits only occur when we’re gone, that it’s caused by separation anxiety – dogs are pack animals, after all, being descended from wolves. Wolves are rarely alone, preferring a pack, and that whole “lone wolf” idea is really an invention – wolves very rarely leave their pack.

So Kasha, feeling abandoned by her pack, has taken to relieving her natural anxiety by raiding a.) Rhiannon’s trash can full of Kleenex & paper towels (which hold up amazingly well after passage through a dog’s digestive tract); b.) the litter box (let’s just say Rhiannon hadn’t cleaned it in a while & leave it at that); then c.) the empty Kleenex box that Rhiannon was using  as a trash can since she couldn’t use her actual trash can, and had buried it under other stuff, but that Kasha found, ripped part, and then devoured the contents of (more Kleenex & paper towels). The vet did say Kasha needed to lose weight, but I don’t think this is quite the method she had in mind!

Incident c.)  is what has sparked today’s train of thought in me, as I posted the “Oddest Question Ever Asked On Facebook: Has anyone ever given an enema to a dog?” yesterday.  I was surprised at all the helpful answers I got – apparently their are a lot of constipated dogs (& cats) in America!

But a part of me felt guilty for even asking the question. In our culture, if your dog is sick, you don’t try to fix the problem yourself, you trundle off to the vet’s office for x-rays & IV’s & let the poor vet techs give your dog an enema. And then you fork over $500 (or way more) for something you could probably have dealt with at home.

Now, if Kasha had been a constipated sheep, there would have been no question – the farmer (or shepherdess as I preferred to be called back in the Before Times) drenches (stuffs a bottle of medicine) down the sheep’s throat, and does whatever else is necessary. Farm profit margins are very slim – you don’t call the vet unless the animal is really valuable (like a horse).

Part of farming is learning how to be your own vet most of the time. I have done nearly every conceivable thing to a farm animal, starting with the first baby goats I cleaned off & set to nursing, to pulling stuck lambs (sometimes inserting way more of me than was comfortable to turn a recalcitrant lamb into a better position), vaccinating, treating infections (including fly-strike – takes a very strong stomach), cleaning & bandaging wounds, catheterizing a horse recovering from neurological illness who couldn’t pee, starting IV’s, the list goes on & on & on.

So it seems only natural to me to try to treat the dog’s issue at home.

Dart, One Spring

Still, there was this sense of guilt. And then I realized there was also a very deep sense of guilt about Dart’s passing. Dart was very old – 15. She had some kind of intestinal cancer, I’m pretty sure. She eventually stopped eating, despite my attempts at tempting her. And I wrestled with what to do, oh, how I wrestled. It had been less than a year since I’d had Shunka put to sleep, because of a brain tumor. I just couldn’t face that again. So I decided to let Dart die naturally, at home.

Society would say that my decision was selfish & even abusive; that I should have had her put to sleep. If I’d known how long it was going to take, I probably would have. But I didn’t know. And she wasn’t in any obvious pain. She was just dying, as is only natural for a 15 year old dog.

If she had been a sheep, it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind to take her to the vet to have her put down – she would have been allowed to live out her days in peace, and if I thought she was suffering, I would have shot her (or had someone shoot her for me – I’ve never killed, personally, one of my own animals before).

Wow, that thought trips the memories of Cherokee the horse’s death. She had gone through multiple medical problems, including cataracts (causing blindness) in her final year. She was 16 (pretty old for a horse) when I found her down & shivering in a snowstorm, and had my second husband shoot her while I sobbed incoherently into the phone to my mother. For Cherokee, as for any animal in my keeping, the time to take action to end their life didn’t come until or unless they were in pain or distress, excepting the lambs and cows I sent to slaughter (a painful part of farming – for the farmer no less than the animal).

Why is it okay in our society to let a newbie farmer learn all about vet care through trial and error and lots of reading, and yet, if a companion animal, a dog or cat, is even possibly getting sick (as in Kasha’s case) or dying naturally (as in Dart’s case), we expect the owner to take them immediately to the vet? For some of us, this is a question not only of consideration for the animal, but a big financial consideration – something we really can’t afford, living on very limited income.

Is it really fair, to value the life of a dog over the life of a goat? Goats are highly intelligent, inquisitive animals, with their own distinctive personalities.

Shouldn’t compassion for animals be equal for all animals? And yet it isn’t.

I know there are many arguments to be made for dogs and cats, that they are more intelligent, that they are companions, and part of the family, whereas a sheep is not. But it’s not like that in all cultures – some cultures value dogs more for their protein content then their ability to be trained, and cats more for their beautiful fur than for their mouse-hunting, purring, affectionate, cat-ness.

Should I feel guilty for letting Dart die naturally at home of old age, even though she wasn’t in pain or visible distress?

Should I really feel guilty for giving the dog an enema myself instead of rushing her off to the vet?

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts below!

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This is where I am tonight; this is what is in my heart & mind:

Self:

When I was 19, my new husband & I moved to 33 acres of gorgeous land in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. I loved the mountains so much, and wanted to learn about “homesteading.”

We got a goat for milk, and I learned how to take care of her, help her have her kids, milked her, and learned to make yogurt & cottage cheese. I baked all our bread.

We bought a 3 day old calf and bottle raised it, then pastured it until it was ready to take to the butcher, to become the best beef I’d ever eaten.

I learned all about raised bed gardening, and produced bumper crops of tomatoes, green beans, squashes, peas, lettuce… pretty much everything. I learned to can the excess, and stocked the cabinet with quart mason jars full of organically grown goodness. I used our plum & pear trees to make delicious jams & pear butter (like apple butter, only better).

I bought horses, because I loved them, had loved them from childhood. I would ride for hours, learned how to barrel race, and entered bareback elimination classes at shows.

I had a child, and continued to do my many outdoors pursuits, often with my daughter riding on my back in a backpack.

Then I developed a love affair with sheep, and tracked down different heritage breeds: sheep for wool for spinning: white sheep & black sheep & spotted sheep & one golden brown sheep (who butted my hand on arrival and cracked a finger from joint to joint). I learned through much trial and error how to shear a sheep, card the wool, spin it & weave or knit it into beautiful creations.

I got divorced, and my 3 year old daughter and I and the sheep, goats, and horses, all moved to the middle of nowhere, West Virginia. 22 acres, a house, a barn.

It was tough, living by myself. I learned how to haul 50# bags of horse, goat, & sheep feed, slung over my shoulder. And the hay… hay bales can weigh 40-50#, and you get a truckload at a time. Hauling them to the barn was a challenge, but I did it.

I dug the post holes for the fence, learned how to run fence myself.

I spent many, many cold nights in the barn, watching a pregnant ewe, waiting for lambs to be born. They need a lot of help if they are born when it’s cold – teaching them to stand, to nurse, drying them off, coaxing a first time mother sheep into letting her lambs nurse. Sheep are often clueless.

I learned about herbs, not just for cooking, but healing herbs, and grew a huge herb garden as well as veggies.

I discovered I was not alone in my spiritual beliefs, and attending festivals, sometimes with hundreds of others, became an integral part of every summer.

I fell in love again, and learned from my ski photographer husband how not just to ski, but to ski well. I’d never been good at sports, but skiing, it clicked with me, and I was good.

Self-Destruction:

I blew my knee out skiing, healed, skiied the next year until on one spring skiing day, showing off, I really, really blew my knee out.

Self:

Money, or lack there-of, became a problem. I had to sell the farm, and we moved to a temporary location with just the favorites: a couple horses, my most treasured sheep, the dog & our first wolf-dog.

I fell in love with wolf-dogs, and bred ours to a nearly pure wolf. She had an exceptional number of cubs, but we found homes for most of them, and took in our first rescue, a nearly pure wolf of 4 months old.

We had to move, and after a long & difficult search, found 22 acres in south east Ohio, in the foothills of the Alleghenies. A shabbily built log cabin, no running water, soon accompanied by extensive wolf-fencing, and even a sun deck for the wolves, and a shelter for the horses. The sheep I was forced to sell, but I was content with the wolf pack & the horses.

After my second divorce, I found myself responsible for my half of the wolf pack, and my beloved horses. More wolf-dogs came in as rescues, as I learned that it takes a very special person to provide a lifetime of care to a wolf-dog.

The wolves became my center, my heart & soul. With them, I was at peace.

It was tough. Often, I had to carry 40# bags of wolf-chow & 50# bags of horse chow, one by one, across a log that served as the bridge over our creek, and up a crazy steep hill to the house. Occasionally, I could get in through a neighbor’s land.

Wood was the only source of heat, and I learned the fine art of chainsaw use, and split the wood with the maul. In the winter, it was so cold, we hung a blanket over the entrance to the kitchen, and the dishpan would have ice in it in the morning.

Water for drinking had to be hauled in as well. Rain barrels provided water for washing.

I went to college to learn to work in the park service, as a ranger, or a naturalist. I learned to identify every tree in the forest by twig, leaf or bark sample; learned how to design & build trails; how to teach environmental education to children, and much more.

Self-Destruction:

It was about this time I started having the good days/bad days of CFS, and was diagnosed with it.

I had a headache for six months.

I tore up my knee again roofing a house, and had surgery, the first of four.

Self:

I entered a disastrous marriage, we bought 209 acres, and I again tracked down the heritage breeds of sheep, cattle, and horses. We hatched out hundreds of ducks, chicks, & a few ill tempered geese.

I sheared sheep, collected eggs, pulled lambs, plucked endless chickens…

At 31, I had my second child, and shortly thereafter, escaped the marriage. I was forced to move into town, and put some of my wolf-dogs into other rescues. I planted a veggie garden, and a huge herb garden.

I started herb plants indoors, and sold then & herbal concoctions at the farmer’s market.

My last wolf-dog was sent into rescue for his own safety. It tore my heart out.

Needing to support my girls, I jumped onto the internet in 1997, taught myself how to do everything, and built a thriving business.

I took a trip to England & Wales, propelled by the sudden, urgent need to go, and camped all around the Isle with a British friend.

Self-Destruction:

Four months later, I was struck down, hard, by CFS/FMS, in 1999, forcing me to move back to my mother’s house, and began the odyssey of trip after trip to doctor after doctor.

Self:

Still, I struggled through it to keep my business going, and it did well beyond my expectations.

In 2001, we moved to The Mountain.

It was the first time in my entire life that we were financially comfortable.

Self-Destruction:

In 2006, I tested positive for Lyme disease, and started a controversial treatment of IV antibiotics for a year.

I failed the treatment, and became bedridden. I very nearly died.

My business folded as I lay in bed; it was unceremoniously closed.

I have been essentially bedridden or housebound ever since.

Now, today, I type this one handed. My shoulder has pretty much disintegrated, possibly as a side effect of some of the dozens of medications I’ve taken in my attempt to get my life back. My knee is trash, and needs to be replaced. My back is raging with pain & inflamation. The exhaustion beyond words continues.The headaches & migraines continue to rule my life.

Self:

How do I get my sense of self, and of self-worth, back, when so much of my self has been expressed through actions and activities, which are now out of reach as my body continues down it’s path of self-destruction?

How?

Please post your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions below rather than sending them to me privately.

This way, there will be a record I can keep for always.

Thanks, guys…

Ash

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